Editor’s note: These articles comprise the second of a four-part series, prepared by the archdiocesan Ministry for Native American Concerns. Respect for the dead is seemingly a universal human trait. In many cultures the dead are not only respected but honored. Native Americans do not differ in this idea or concept; they uphold these to be a central part of whom they are. Present day indigenous people, both of the United States and of Latin America, while affected by western ways of life and all the trappings of the 20th century, are still uniquely and deeply rooted in the places of the past. They strongly believe that their buried dead should not be disturbed, but should be remembered and honored. Thus digging them up for anthropological or historical scientific research is not something that they promote. In many religious circles, especially within the Catholic Church, this would be considered sacrilegious and a grave disrespect for the dead. That is why the dead and their bodies are so highly respected and honored in Native traditions.More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadores landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years — a ritual the Spaniards would try to unsuccessfully eradicate, a ritual known today as Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.Present day indigenous people, both of the United States and of Latin America, while affected by western ways of life and all the trappings of the 20th century, are still uniquely and deeply rooted in the places of the past.Although the ritual has been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the ancient ritual. The Spaniards of that time viewed death as the end of life; the natives saw and continue to see it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embrace it. Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico and parts of the U.S., especially in the Southwest and California. In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for the dead children; for the adults they bring what were their favorite items in life. They sit on blankets next to the gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.In the United States and in Mexico’s larger cities, families honor their loved ones by building altars in their homes. They surround these altars with flowers, food and pictures of the deceased. They light candles and place them next to the altar. They offer prayers and songs. Because this ritual has taken on many aspects of Catholic theology, it is important to remember that in native traditions the dead are highly respected, especially once they have been buried for they have been honored as God’s children. This is clearly in accordance with Catholic teaching, as noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2300):“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Juan Pablo Miramontes, Huichol Ancestry, is a council member of the Ministry for Native American Concerns. Sacred Sites: We must respect each other’s beliefsBY ANGIE BEHRNSOur Nation includes Los Angeles County, the Islands of San Nicholas, Catalina and San Clemente, and parts of Orange County. We never sold our land and did not give it away. It was taken from us. People from far away have made our Nation their home. Their burial grounds or cemeteries are protected. But until recently we, the original people of this area, have had no protection for our sacred burial sites. In this article I will discuss three of them: Kuruvungna (University High School in West Los Angeles), Shevaanga (San Gabriel Mission, where my Ancestors were baptized, married and are buried), and Puvungna (California State University Long Beach).Kuruvungna is where we come to worship just as our ancestors did. Kuruvungna was documented in Friar Juan Crespi’s diary; he wrote that in 1769 the Portola expedition camped at the village and Mass was said for the people living there. Many years later, the village was dissolved by the Catholic Church. Since then, countless artifacts and human remains have been found at Kuruvungna.In the spring, the West Wind Runners start running from Saanga, the Ballona Wetlands sacred site, to Kuruvungna and gather around the Sacred Springs. Each runner prays to the Creator for the blessings he has received.Gabrielino People once inhabited Puvungna, which is very sacred to them and other neighboring Nations. Native American students waged a successful struggle for the reburial of an Indigenous skeleton found on Puvungna, which was an intertribal gathering place for prayer and trade. Presently it continues to be a gathering place of offering thanksgiving prayers for Ancestors and their wisdom.Three years ago, I took my daughter to Shevaanga (San Gabriel Mission). Many of our ancestors who built the Mission are buried there. My father’s grandmother and great-grandmother were also buried there under little wooden crosses. He would bring the family to the Cemetery where he would say a prayer and make the sign of the cross at their graves. When my daughter and I walked out of the side door of the Church, those little wooden crosses were no longer there. The burial sites had been removed and replaced by others. I asked a Mission official why the Indians were removed from their burial sites. He answered that they didn’t know who they were.I cannot describe in words the feelings that I had on that day. These burial sites are sacred to us. In Los Angeles, burial sites are continually being disrupted by developers who destroy or unearth our ancestors’ remains.My granddaughter once asked me if we were the caretakers of this land. Yes, I said, we are the caretakers, and when we lose respect for one another then we also lose respect for the land which our Creator has given us to care for.We must remember to respect one another’s beliefs, customs and traditions. If we do this, we will make this world a better place in which to live.Angie Behrns is an Elder Member of the Gabrieleno Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, and president of the Gabrielino/Tongva Springs (G/TS) Foundation. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0923/native/{/gallery}Upcoming events—Oct. 1: All are invited to join 15th annual Pilgrimage of the Gabrieleno/ Tongva and Juaneno/Acjachemen People as they carry prayers to honor the spirits of their Ancestors. The event begins at 7:30 a.m. in San Clemente and concludes at 4:30 p.m. in Long Beach. Information: Rhonda Robles, [email protected].—Oct. 2: With a grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) the G/TS Foundation will hold its Life Before Columbus Day Festival, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The Festival is free to the public at University High School, 1439 S. Barrington Ave., West Los Angeles. Information: (310) 397-0180.—Ongoing: The Kuruvungna Springs Cultural Center and Museum are open the first Saturday of the month, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at University High School. Information: [email protected].